Grid operators told to rethink plans -- Offshore grid reinforcement

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Debate over the technical, economic and administrative pros and cons of bringing a targeted 6000 MW of offshore wind capacity onto the Dutch national grid has been sparked by a report from the national Energy Research Centre (ECN). The report concludes that the advantages of building a common offshore network versus allowing each wind farm to arrange for its own grid connection are economically competitive.

The real advantages of the network solution are environmental and judicial, since it will minimise disruption to the coastal dunes -- some of them protected -- as well as requests for siting permission, the report suggests. "For that reason the Dutch government would favour a network, I believe," says Sergio Herman, one of the report's authors. "But really this research is intended as a starting shot in the wider debate."

The report was presented to an industry gathering in November, where much of the discussion centred around the offshore network provision and who should pay for it. According to an earlier report by research agency Kema, uprading the national grid alone will cost between EUR 350-650 million, based on the assumption that by 2020 maximum generating capacity, including 6000 MW of offshore wind, will have reached 23,000 MW in the Netherlands. It is 16,000 MW today.

High voltage grid upgrades, irrespective of developments offshore, will cost some EUR 100 million, says Kema. The cost of further upgrades to accommodate 6000 MW of offshore wind will depend on where it is brought ashore, with estimates ranging from EUR 250 to EUR 550 million. According to wind representatives at the meeting, Dutch law requires grid operators to pay the costs, not the generators.

"We could just leave it to the grid operators to make offshore wind farm connection points at the end of the twelve mile zone, so that wind farm operators can connect to these [substations], then you have a reduced number of dune crossings," suggests Mathieu Kortenoever of developer E-Connection.

Others suggest that market players will find the most efficient and cheapest means of connecting their wind farms to the Dutch grid.

Making a choice

"The government should choose between one of these two options, but at present we have an electricity act which states that it is the sole responsibility of the grid operator, so why reinvent the wheel?" asks Kortenoever. He wants the regulator to check the capacity plans of grid operators to ensure government policy is being followed.

The government is to announce its preliminary conclusions early in 2004 after a further round of consultation.

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